By Tim Wildmon
The universally well known actor Andy Griffith died recently at the age of 86. He was buried in his home state, North Carolina, a mere five hours after his death. There’s no particular reason for the quick burial, according to family, other than they had planned on doing it this way for a long time.
News of Griffith’s death reminded millions of Americans of just how much they enjoyed “The Andy Griffith Show,” which ran on CBS from 1960 to 1968 and included 249 episodes, 159 in black and white and 90 in color. It has been ranked by TV Guide as the 9th best show in television history. Griffith also has a long run as country lawyer Matlock on NBC from 1986-92. But it was his own show that he was best known for.
The thing I appreciated most about The Andy Griffith Show is that every episode presented a situation where a moral value was “taught.” The show was for comedic entertainment for sure, with a great cast of actors, but the viewing audience was always left with life lessons enforcing traditional values. Later, in the 1970s, legendary producer Norman Lear introduced several new sitcoms which promoted his more liberal worldview and they also were big hits with the American viewing audience. Lear made no bones about it, he was a preacher and shows like All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons were his pulpit. He used the money he made from these shows to fund the far left political organization People for the American Way. Lear believed if he could wrap a social message in comedy people would be more receptive and television could be a powerful agent to shape the public’s attitudes on topics. He was correct about that.
But back to The Andy Griffith Show. What’s remarkable to me has been the staying power of the program. My kids are 24, 23 and 18 and they know about The Andy Griffith show because they watched it as children just like I did. And I’m 49.
Americans even use common expressions today based on a television program that ended nearly 45 years ago. When we describe someone as a “Barney Fife” we mean someone who has an authority complex. Everyone knows this.
One of my favorite episodes is when Andy goes out of town and puts Barney in charge. True to his reputation, Barney proceeds to cite most of the town’s people for violating various laws and Andy comes home to find most of them in jail. Andy is disgusted. Barney is proud. Andy was always walking the fine line between teaching Barney how to handle people without tearing down what little self-esteem Barney had. It made for a lot of sentimental moments in a show built around hilarious situations and homespun humor.
I guess as television shows go I, too, would have to rank The Andy Griffith Show at or near the top of my all-time favorites list along with “I Love Lucy,” the “Cosby Show,” both Bob Newhart shows, the “Carol Burnett Show,” “24” and, of course, the most cleverly scripted and acted television program ever – “Columbo,” starring Peter Falk.
Television, like everything else, has changed a lot over the decades since Andy sat in Floyd the Barber’s chair. Sitcoms today rely a lot on bathroom humor and sex jokes. But give me old school shows like “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Gilligan’s Island” and, yes, “Green Acres” every day.
Andy Griffith was an iconic television personality – for all the right reasons. The stories were creative, the messages were wholesome, and the humor was funny.
May he rest in peace.
Community columnist Tim Wildmon is a Lee County resident. He is president of the American Family Association, but the column represents his personal opinion unless otherwise noted. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.